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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Job-Seeking Strategy for Differently-abled Candidates: Address Employers' Fears Head-On

by Maureen Crawford Hentz

The single biggest barrier to full employment for the differently abled is the "fear of the unknown" of hiring/working with someone different. Employers know and generally comply with the law, but little is being done to educate co-workers in effective strategies for coping with their apprehension. I believe that hiring committees composed of co-workers/superiors/subordinates may often be the derailing factor in a differently-abled person's job search process. Peer committees may simply not know how working with a differently-abled individual will work. I've often heard comments from potential co-workers that range from "well, how can she talk to us if she's deaf?" to "well, there's not enough room in here for a wheelchair.”

As differently-abled job searchers go through the process of interviewing, a good strategy may be to address potential concerns directly. This strategy is not required on the searcher's part, but in my professional opinion, it is a technique to counterbalance the prejudice that people may feel -- whether or not they express it. Remember, technically, employers are limited by law to asking if the candidate can accomplish the job (and in some cases, ask the candidate for an illustration of how). What I would argue, however, is that the real questions are the ones that a coworker would be afraid to ask. I think that the best defense, if you will, is an effective offense -- putting people at ease.

For example, I recently had a deaf person as a client. She was concerned that the company where she was interviewing would be afraid she could not communicate with co-workers. As an excellent lip reader who also is verbally articulate, this client brought this issue up at the interview in the following way: "I want to let you know that I'm able to read lips, so understanding what is being said should not be a problem as long as I can see everyone's face. If you need to get my attention, just wave or give me a tap on the arm. Likewise, if you don't understand something I say, please ask me to repeat myself -- no need to be embarrassed -- communication is the key."

An additional strategy for this client was to ask her references to specifically address the communication issue when giving the reference. She asked her former supervisors to bring up the communication issue with the reference-checker. This strategy also proved extremely effective, as the former employer was able to verify the ease of communication.

For this client, these strategies worked exceptionally well. She was subsequently hired for the job. With her coworkers, she has continued to work out day-to-day details, such as telephone calls and messages.

Each job-seeker needs to evaluate his/her feelings about this issue. Many job-seekers don't want to have to educate everyone with whom they come in contact. That's okay. Many job-seekers don't want to directly address their disability. That's okay. Many job-seekers feel that it is incumbent upon coworkers to initiate their own learning process. All of these feelings and beliefs are valid. Ultimately, each job-seeker must decide if, when and in what manner similar strategies should be employed.

Is it ok to say "Did you hear that...." to a deaf co-worker? Should I offer to push my supervisor's wheelchair? Should I open a door for a person with leg braces? Do I offer to spell check my dyslexic co-worker's memo before it goes out? Is it appropriate to ask how my HIV positive coworker is feeling? How do I shake hands with a visually impaired client?

Coworkers and others in the workplace have questions like these, but don't know if, where and how they should be asked. In the millennial workplace, all members of a team must be sensitized to working with diverse people. Too often, however, diversity training is limited in sphere to racial/ethnic and gender issues. There are many diversity educators available who present workshops on issues specifically related to disability in the workplace. In my professional opinion, every company should include these kinds of programs routinely. By hosting diversity training sessions focusing on the issue of people with disabilities, co-workers can become not only sensitized to certain issues, but also more adept in using appropriate behaviors.

Similarly, a personnel/human-resources office should initiate educating potential coworkers about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the practicalities of reasonable accommodation. In this way, what I call the "Hidden Trap for Differently-Abled Job Seekers" can be effectively counterbalanced.

About the Author

QuintZine regular contributor Maureen Crawford Hentz, an independent career and HR consultant, has been working with career seekers for nine years, and has master’s degree in college student personnel from Bowling Green State University. A popular conference lecturer, she specializes in large and small specially designed workshops for professional organizations, students and environmental groups. Her most popular career workshops address topics including: Non-Verbal Techniques To Use During An Interview; Powerful Resumes; and Interviewing Etiquette You've Never Even Thought About. She has a particular interest in job searching techniques for differently-abled candidates, new grads and career changers. Proving that you never have to settle for just one career, in addition to her consulting work, Maureen is also the director of volunteer programs and Internships at the New England Aquarium, Boston and an instructor of American culture at Showa Boston Institute for Language and Culture.

Source : Quintessential Careers


Anonymous said...

No matter when you bring up the issue of your disability, be prepared to describe how you can perform the reasonable functions of the job given certain accommodations. Your prospective employer is going to be walking out on a limb, and the more proactive you can be in addressing any concerns, the more likely they are to hire you.

Anonymous said...

If you are a disabled person and want to go into work, you are entitled to exactly the same job opportunities as anyone else. If you feel that you have been unfairly discriminated against, you should report it straight away, as the law is there to help and protect you. The Disability Rights Commission website will be able to tell you exactly what to do if this is the case.

Anonymous said...

The job search for people with disabilities need not be difficult. Certain employers indicate their willingness to hire disabled people. You just need to know how to identify them.